India kept their best for last as a hard-fought 35-run in Wellington completed a 4-1 ODI series win in New Zealand, to go with the ODI series win in Australia.
It has been a stupendously successful tour of the Antipodes with Virat Kohli’s India gaining new strength in the Test and ODI arena.
India have managed to keep their Test and 50-over World Cup ambitions separate and perform at the best level in both formats.
The win in the fifth ODI against the Kiwis was particularly pleasing for India as it was managed despite the men in blue being reduced to 18-4 and without Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah in the team.
Here we take a look at the positives for India from the New Zealand ODI series win.
SHAMI THE NO.2 PACER
Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were long seen as automatic pace bowling selections for India’s first-choice ODI team. While Bumrah is clearly the leader of the bowling attack, a back injury hampered Bhuvi’s cricket in 2018 and he is only just getting back to his best.
In that period, Mohammed Shami has taken his game to a new level. Displaying excellent fitness levels, Shami was the standout performer in the Australia Test series which earned him a surprise call to the ODI team.
India cricket had almost forgotten that Shami was the star bowler for them at the 2015 World Cup. While India was looking for a back-up bowler to Bumrah and Bhuvi, they have re-discovered a first-choice bowler who can replace Bhuvneshwar on any given day. His pace, lengths and swing make Shami a more lethal option that Bhuvi on flatter decks and will give Kohli a great selection headache.
There was never any doubt about the impact all-rounder Hardik Pandya has on the balance of any Indian team. His seam bowling and supercharged late-order hitting make him an almost indispensable member of the team.
However, following his serious back injury sustained during the Asia Cup in the UAE last September and subsequent brain fade during an ill-planned TV show, question marks were placed over the state of his body and mind.
The Indian team, however, needed their star all-rounder in the dressing room. After his suspension was suspended (yup), he walked right back into the team. In the third ODI against New Zealand, Pandya bowled his full quota of 10 overs and picked up two wickets. In the fifth ODI, he snared two in eight.
With the bat, he was arguably the deciding factor as his 22-ball 45 helped India post 252 and eke out a 35-run win in Wellington. If Pandya remains fit, Kohli will breathe easy.
RAYUDU IS THE MAN
Last year, Kohli made it clear Ambati Rayudu was the player the team backed at the number four position going into the World Cup run-in. That was not the most popular move and after a few indifferent outings, time started to run out for India to find a permanent solution to the problem.
The emergence of young Rishabh Pant in Test cricket made many wonder whether it would be better to have veteran keeper MS Dhoni bat at number four – as suggested by vice-captain Rohit Sharma himself – and have an in-form hard-hitter like Pant in the lower order.
But a couple of match-winning 40s in New Zealand and a career defining 90 in Wellington have silenced all critics – including me – about his suitability at the No4 slot for now. With India 18-4, Rayudu curbed his natural instincts, played out over after over and even when he was 35 from 70 balls after 29 overs, didn’t lose focus or shape.
Rayudu timed his acceleration perfectly and the hard runs he made against a class Kiwi attack in demanding conditions should add that extra punch to his strokes during the home ODI series against Australia at the end of the month and later at the World Cup.
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